Should you find yourself in the possession of a brand new iPad or iPhone this Christmas, here are the apps I would recommend above all others. These are my personal favorites.
The to-do list to end all to-do lists. Clear is not just super-useful, it’s one of the smartest, coolest, most fun-to-use apps ever made. In an attempt to make list creation as simple as possible, Realmac Software re-thought the entire notion of what a touchscreen app is, and what it can do, removing unnecessary steps and simplifying the entire process with gestures. And the look and feel is a brilliant example of modern app design that moves far away from skeuomorphism.
I’m not going to rehash the whole Apple Maps thing for the zillionth time. All that really matters is that Google has created the best maps app available for iPhone. In addition to having the most detailed and accurate maps data in existence, Google took it to the next level with the kind of gorgeous, smart design and super-simple controls that we Apple fans adore.
The best way to make your pictures look great, and post them for your friends to see, on the go. With millions of users, and simple ways of sharing your pics to Facebook and Twitter, Instagram makes your photos beautiful and available for the world (or just your friends) to see. The secret to Instagram‘s success is its immediacy. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you can show your friends exactly what you’re seeing right that moment. If Twitter was made up of pictures instead of words, this would be the result.
This must-have, which once upon a time was known as Read It Later, lets you read web articles in a beautiful format that ditches all the extra formatting and ads from the website it came from. Doesn’t much matter what it is — articles, video, images, audio — if it’s on the web, you can save it for later reading, and it’ll be a lot easier to read than the busy website you found it on. Call it the ultimate bathroom reader app.
Circa is not just another news app. Realizing that news agencies are still stuck in the newspaper format of static articles. Circa‘s makers smartly decided to invent a way of delivering news that makes more sense for our always-connected culture. News is delivered in short snippets on a single screen that give you what you need to know, but you can scroll down for added details if you like. Better still, instead of publishing a dozen articles about the same event, articles are no longer static. Each news story or event gets a single page, where the latest information is added, so that the full story is always updated and available on a single page.
I am a Shopkick-aholic. Utterly and completely obsessed with this app. Shopkick rewards you with points (called “Kicks”) for walking into your favorite stores, as well as for scanning the bar codes of specific products. You can get anywhere from 10 Kicks up to 200 or even more for any one action, and on a good day, you can get over 500 Kicks for visiting and scanning. Some stores, like Old Navy and Toys ‘R’ Us, let you link your credit card to Shopkick, so that for every dollar you spend there, you get several Kicks. So what are all these Kicks for, you ask? Free stuff, of course. They have an extensive catalog of freebies you can “buy” with your Kicks, ranging from gift cards to places like Target, Best Buy, and iTunes, to cool, high-end products like Nikes, headphones, iPad cases, and even a cruise vacation. There’s really no reason not to use Shopkick. It’s free and it’s awesome. And you can earn prizes for doing things you already do.
Think of it as “Shopkick for watching TV.” Tune in to your favorite shows, and check in with the Viggle app, and you’ll be rewarded with points that you can put towards prizes. Their prize library is nowhere near as extensive as Shopkick‘s, but it has some nice goodies. To check you in, the app uses your iPhone’s microphone to listen to your TV. Through some sort of mysterious, magical technology, Viggle can recognize what you’re watching just from its sound. It only works for live TV shows (or recorded shows up to 24 hours after it aired), but sometimes there are also “second screen” style trivia events that you can earn added points for. DirecTV customers can link their account to Viggle for bonus points.
If you have no other app on your iPad, this is the one you can’t live without. Flipboard turns your favorite websites and social network feeds into an attractive, personalized magazine. It’s clean, it’s beautiful, it’s super easy to use, and it’s free. Go get it now.
By far the best Twitter client available, Tweetbot out-Twitters Twitter. A stunning, supremely functional interface makes Twitter a joy to read and interact with. Endless options — including several not offered by Twitter itself, such as muting specific feeds — make this one the perfect package. Tweetbot is everything that Twitter should be.
Hands down, the best photo editing software known to man. With intuitive gesture controls and loads of gorgeous effects, Snapseed makes it impossible to make your photos ugly. It used to cost, but now you can get it for free since it was acquired by Google. Instagram is awesome for quick editing and posting, but if you want to go deeper and really turn your pictures into stunners, Snapseed is your way there.
Forget YouTube. (There’s no native iPad app for it anyway.) Vimeo‘s gorgeous app gives you access to their entire library in style, with lovely layouts and simple controls. It’s exactly the kind of app that iPad apps should be. And everybody knows there’s better content on Vimeo, anyway.
I love drawing and sketching apps as much as the next guy, but Paper is not intended for creating art. (Though you can certainly do that, if you want.) Paper is an ideas app. When you get that flash of inspiration, Paper is where you put it. Brainstorming is simple and quite lovely with this app, which has the most realistic pen, pencil, and painting responses of any app I’ve ever seen. I’m also fond of the undo action, which you enact by “rewinding” your actions by drawing a counter-clockwise circle with two fingers. The only downside to Paper is that while there are several pens and paint brushes available, it only comes with one of them. You have to make in-app purchases to get the rest of them.
Since Instagram has no native iPad app, we’re left to find third-party apps that might do the job for our treasured tablets. Iris is the best I’ve ever found. Instagram doesn’t allow third-party apps to post photos; you can only do that inside the Instagram app. But Iris does everything else. It displays your feed in columns of four, and you just tap on a pic to blow it up. Tap the photo again and sharing options slide into view. Iris‘ search function is one of the best I’ve ever used, letting you search for users or tags. The one thing I’ve always hated about Instagram is that you can’t zoom in on your friends’ photos. You can view them on the web and zoom in that way, but that requires several extra steps. Iris solves this problem beautifully, letting you view pics at a size that nearly fills your entire screen. It makes the entire Instagram experience attractive and sublime.